Residents ask for scrutiny before tax break for cold storage facility

OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino: Mary Ellen Decker, left, asks for caution and research before the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency approves tax breaks for Great Lakes Cold Storage. Other Fairview Avenue residents attended to question the project’s location.

The need for jobs in the city of Dunkirk was tempered by pleas for careful consideration when it comes to a cold storage facility planned for the lot between Central Avenue, Fairview Avenue and Main Street Extension.

Last month, Great Lakes Cold Storage won an appeal to rezone the 18-acre property from residential to commercial. At that meeting, city officials spoke of the benefits and residents directly impacted by the facility voiced concerns.

A similar pattern occurred at Thursday’s Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency public hearing on tax breaks for the facility.

“I am not here today to speak just for the cold storage development; I am here to speak for the residents of the city of Dunkirk who have lost their jobs due to businesses closing their doors and industry leaving our city. I am here to speak for the taxpayers who are overburdened due to the declining tax base. I am here to speak for the city of Dunkirk and all that it once was and can be again,” Vicky Westling said, noting the further loss of jobs with JC Penney and the potential for added jobs at Fieldbrook Foods if this facility is built.

“… The city needs this cold storage facility, the unemployed and soon-to-be-unemployed residents need this cold storage facility and the taxpayers need this cold storage facility,” Westling added.

While no one disagreed jobs are needed, Fairview Avenue residents questioned whether these jobs’ wages will allow workers to buy property in the city and how much the city will receive in taxes if the CCIDA approves tax breaks for the company.

Several residents also questioned why a residential location was considered in favor of one of the city’s many commercial properties.

“Everybody I hear in favor of this in the city … doesn’t live on Fairview Avenue, isn’t directly impacted by this. South Roberts, Ocelot, not so much. You don’t have to worry about ammonia leaks. It’s a mechanical operation, it does happen. It’s not intentional, but it does happen. When it does, you don’t close your window, you evacuate the whole neighborhood. It’ll kill you,” Michael Giardina said.

City Clerk Edwin Ramos said Dunkirk is no longer the bustling town his father came to for a job years ago.

“We need to walk before we can run and sometimes we stumble and fumble. We need to take some steps to bring the industries into town,” he said. “… There is a ton of industry we have lost in the (city). Now, is there another option for building? Probably, but I don’t think it will include the city of Dunkirk.”

Mary Ellen Decker of Pennsylvania Avenue, said the CCIDA should learn lessons from past situations like MVP Plastics. She further asked the CCIDA to do its research on the company in question, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Solon, Ohio in November 2011.

Giardina pointed out other instances where companies pack up just before tax incentives run out and John Bogardus said he heard this facility was all set to be built in the town of Dunkirk when it was pulled out from under them.

Decker said she’s done her research on the proposed payment in lieu of tax agreement and called into question the number of jobs promised as well as the tax revenue.

“Residents have been told that 40 jobs, 50 according to one local official, will be created and that’s great, those jobs are needed, but the applicant indicates that only by year three will 28 people be hired for this facility. Seventeen of those employees will be paid $27,300 a year, that’s only $2,700 above poverty level for a family of four. Residents have been told the city will, if taxes are paid, bring in $250,000, but what’s the PILOT asking for? Taxes are being calculated at $406,300 per year, for a total of $6,094,500 over 15 years and if accrued, the applicant will pay 30 percent of that sum or $1,828,350. It’s pretty hard to come to $250,000 when you share that revenue with the county and the school district all at their prorated level,” she said.

CCIDA Chief Financial Officer Richard Dixon said a specific amount for the PILOT agreement is not yet known because there cannot be an assessment until the facility is built.

“No one, no one here opposed the economic development or lending financial assistance to this or any business to attract them to the area, but what concerns the people here is the hurry-up nature of this project, the lack of transparency with the residents. Yes, you can view the application, oh but you have to travel to Jamestown. Yes, we’ll have a hearing, but we’ll have it at 10 a.m. in the morning. The residents on Fairview Avenue, only the revenue on the south side of the street received a notification. … Well it didn’t work out well for MVP plastics and to quote the Post-Journal, ‘The County IDA cannot afford a repeat of MVP plastics’ and the residents cannot afford to forever lose their neighborhood because they won’t be getting a 70 percent tax break. Just be thorough, that’s what they’re asking,” Decker added.

Other residents, like Roberta Mastrelli, did not stop at just asking for careful consideration.

“You really should consider not approving this,” she said.

As part of the rules of the public hearing, all testimony, both written and spoken, was recorded, but no questions were answered.

Dixon said the testimony will be transcribed and given to the CCIDA board before the next meeting on May 2 at 10 a.m. in the SUNY Fredonia Incubator so that an informed decision can be made. He said the board will vote on the environmental review and PILOT agreement. The company has not applied for a loan from the CCIDA.

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